In our leadership-obsessed culture, being marked a follower is often symbolized as one’s inability or weakness. Those in charge are glorified, while followers tend to fade into the background. Pick any MBA program and you’ll see how they pride themselves in their ability to teach leadership skills to their students, completely circumventing the merits of followership.
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I often come across write-ups, workshops, literature and personal development seminars based on the theme of “Be a leader, not a follower”. Apparently, there isn’t anything wrong about prompting people to take leadership position, however the way ‘being a follower’ is framed in such a negative connotation warrants concern.
In this post, I will try to highlight some of the many better aspects about being a follower and why it could possibly be good for you.
Note: In the context of this article, the world “follower” is used for someone in the subordinate position in a corporate environment or organization.
1. The Virtue of Loyalty
Loyalty is one of the most important traits an organization requires from its workforce in order to stay ahead of the game. To good followers, the virtue of loyalty comes naturally. They have the ability to work on the tasks assigned to them with a strong allegiance and commitment to the goals of their organization.
Another way followers practice loyalty is through active participation in idea generation as well as giving advice on matters that seem to fall into a grey area. Instead of being bunch of yes-men, they speak out and consistently seeks to participate in the long-term interests of the organization.
That being said, not all followers show the same level of sincerity and commitment. Some followers are loyal to their leader, others are loyal to the organization regardless of who is leading it, and there are those who only show loyalty to their own interests.
No matter who is at the receiving end of dedication, loyalty is almost always a part and parcel of followership.
2. Teamwork Abilities
Followers always work in a team. Even if you are the only follower, you and your superior will automatically work together as a squad. Therefore, the spirit of teamwork and collaboration is embedded in every follower’s personality.
As teamwork is one of those universal skills that can be transferred and applied to any filed, being a follower vouches for your capability of working in a team, consequently adding value to your profile as an efficient employee.
3. Invisible Influence
This statement may be true that an organization is only as good as its leaders, however, it is also true that an organization is only half as good without its followers.
A general misconception about followers is that they espouse whatever their superiors tell them. When in reality good followers invest time and energy in making informed judgments about the tasks that are assigned and significantly influence its outcome.
Take for instance, any project upon which a team of followers is working. When although, a leader or supervisor may be able to guide and manage the project, even then, from conception to execution, it will reflect the ideas and abilities of his subordinates.
Today’s office environment is marked by a flat hierarchy, rapidly emerging technology and well-networked organizational culture, all of which has changed the dynamics of being a follower, giving them more power.
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In comparison with their superiors, subordinates may lack authority; however, they certainly do not lack power and influence.
4. Best Leadership Materials
It is mainly the lack of awareness and understanding which makes us forget that on the other side of leadership is the misunderstood concept of followership. A good and efficient follower embodies certain particular traits that enable him to grow towards an effective leadership position.
One of the best things about being a follower is that it teaches you to be aware of the needs of the people around, to read them and understand what may be their motivational or demotivation factors.
Leaders who have been into followership position have a better idea as how to lead people in a certain direction and bring out the best in them.
Similarly, the aspect of good judgement which is an essential part of a leader’s training, can be learnt while being a follower.
As followers are often faced with challenges of judging, decision-making and solution finding at grassroot levels, such capacities can be easily translated into making bigger and more crucial decisions on the leadership level.
Although not every follower aspires to be a leader, nevertheless, one cannot mature progressively towards a responsible and authoritative position without demonstrating an ability to follow and function effectively in a group.
As Aristotle highlighted this concept many centuries ago saying, “He who’s never learned to obey can’t be a good commander.”
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In today’s highly competitive professional world, we are constantly encouraged to strive for a leadership role. I personally think that it is totally justified to aspire progress and promotion, especially when you have worked so hard in your career.
However, seeing followership as a derogatory factor causes you more harm than good.
Being a follower is not just something you do until you become a leader. Instead the merits of followership require commitment, collaboration and solution finding which are at the core of every successful organization’s strength.
(Cover photo via Freepik)